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Fisher College expels student over website entries

A Fisher College sophomore has been expelled for comments he posted on the student networking website Facebook. The action marks the first time a college has expelled a student for a posting on the popular website, which hosts discussion groups and personal profiles, according to a spokesman for Facebook.

Cameron Walker, the president of Fisher's Student Government Association, was notified last week in a letter from the school's dean of students that he had been expelled for his online critique of a campus police officer.

Walker ''conspired to and damaged the reputation" of the officer, the dean, Bonie Bagchi Williamson wrote in the letter, which Walker provided to the Globe.

The offending material posted to Facebook, also provided to the Globe by Walker, read: ''Either we get a petition going [we need at least 500 signatures] or we try and set him up. He's got to do something wrong, in either case, he's gotta foul up at some point . . . anyone willing to get arrested?"

A day later, on Sept. 21, Walker posted a message saying the officer ''loves to antagonize students . . . and needs to be eliminated."

Fisher College spokesman John McLaughlin said, ''Cameron Walker was found to be in violation of the Student Guide and Code of Conduct."

Other students who posted comments about the officer on Facebook have been questioned, he said, but none have been disciplined as a result of the postings.

Facebook officials said they have no knowledge of any other student facing expulsion for a Facebook entry.

Chris Hughes, Facebook spokesman, said the expulsion raises concerns about the chilling effect the administration's viewing of Facebook entries might have.

Hughes said the terms of member conduct provide that: ''You understand that the website is available for your personal, noncommercial use only." He said that provision raises questions about the administrators' use of the site as the basis for punishing a student.

Facebook, a private company with no affiliation with colleges or universities, is used by tens of thousands of collegians for online networking and socializing. Begun in 2004, the website has become a growing focus for college administrators as they grapple with whether to police a site intended for student dialogue.

The site allows students to create profiles, including photos and personal information. Students can also create discussion groups.

Walker served as an ''officer" of one such Facebook group dedicated to ending the police officer's employment. Walker said he deleted the group from Facebook at the insistence of college administrators last week.

Walker, a liberal arts major who moved back home to Nahant after he was expelled, said in a telephone interview, ''I think that they really overreached in how they're punishing me. That one police sergeant harassed so many students, and all of a sudden it's put on me that I was harassing a cop."

He added: ''If I had posted it on the school's website, I could understand, but I didn't. I posted on a site where students network."

Walker said he has contacted a lawyer and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU lawyer Sarah Wunsch confirmed that Walker had called the organization, but she declined to say whether the ACLU planned to take his case. Walker has been barred from the Fisher campus.

In her letter to Walker, the dean of students noted that Walker's commentary violated the code of conduct's prohibition against, ''verbal, written, graphic, or electronic abuse, harassment, coercion, or intimidation of an individual."

She wrote that the commentary also violated the computer policy.

Walker, she wrote, had failed to uphold the conduct expected of students, and ''betrayed the trust and misused the authority vested in you as President of the Student Government Association."

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